Imagine a product that can determine the difference between a life of literacy or illiteracy. A life with or without employment. A life full of productive independence or codependence. This is a very real scenario for the blind in the US and around the world. In fact, in the United States, 70% of citizens who are blind are unemployed or underemployed. However, 80% of those who use braille are employed. In other words, literacy reverses the numbers.
Fifty seven years after the original Perkins Brailler was introduced by Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, where both Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman studied, Perkins Products partnered with The American Printing House for the Blind and Product Development Technologies (PDT) to vastly improve this life-changing device for the individuals of all ages in over 170 countries that depend upon it. Its name is the Next Generation. "The collaboration between Perkins and PDT was absolutely instrumental in the success of this redesign and development effort," says David Morgan General Manager of Perkins Products.
The redesign process began with exhaustive international user research. The teams spoke directly with those who know the brailler best from children in India who struggled with dirt and dust jamming the precious machine, to teachers for the blind in Malawi who had to pass the brailler around to students all day because they could only afford one per school, to senior citizens and students in the US who needed a lighter machine so they could carry it with them.
The development of the new brailler was uniquely challenging, given there were around six hundred parts. The original brailler took over ten years to develop; the Next Generation took a fraction of that time. This was made possible largely to the cooperation between the Perkins and PDT teams who worked together throughout the entire project; from research to industrial design, engineering and sourcing in both the US and Asia.
"Some projects just rise above the rest in the positive impact they can have in people's lives," says David Carhart, PDT's prototyping manager. "This was one where the motivation was always there to go the extra mile when facing a difficult technical challenge. The thought that we could be helping open a door to literacy for a person with a disability was a huge inspiration."
The challenges with the iconic machine- the most widely used Braille writer in the world- were varied, but in the end, the Next Generation had a team of people develop it who were endlessly passionate about getting it right and giving those at a disadvantage a new advantage... a new vehicle for communicating, learning and expressing themselves.
"The original Perkins Brailler fundamentally changed the lives of tens of thousands of people who are blind or visually impaired. It is our greatest hope that the Next Generation Perkins Brailler captures the best of the original while offering new features and functions that inspire a new generation of children and promote braille literacy efforts around the world" says David Morgan. Few products can have such an impact so as to change the course of a person's life. The Next Generation truly does hold that power.